The Quirks Work – Why Citi’s Great for Casual Points Fans & Low Spenders

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Citi Credit Cards

The Greatness of Citi Credit Cards for Casual Points Fans & Low Spenders

Citi ThankYou points are one of the more polarizing bank points currencies among hobbyists.  Many love the sweet spots Citi enables, such as Turkish Airlines, Ian’s favorite.  I’ve gone from loving to loathing ThankYou points on multiple occasions in the last year.  Through it all, Citi has remained a bit quirky in comparison to the other heavyweight card issuers.  And those wrinkles have mostly brought positives lately, in my view.  With their recent moves, I feel Citi has become a particularly excellent card issuer for casual points fans and low spenders.  Who am I primarily talking about here?  I include those who enjoy earning points on normal spending and the occasional welcome offer but don’t care to spend extra time or effort on advanced plays.  Today, I’m diving into how Citi credit cards deliver for this group of consumers.

Note:  Since this article’s submission, Citi has temporarily enabled transfer of ThankYou  points to American Airlines miles at a 1:1 ratio for many cardholders.  This is another excellent redemption option from Citi, albeit for a limited time.

Generous, Straightforward Bonus Categories from Citi Credit Cards

Citi Credit Cards

The Citi Premier card has a wide-ranging set of bonus categories for primary expenses.  Check out the everyday and travel categories that earn at 3x rates:

  • Supermarkets
  • Gas Stations
  • Restaurants
  • Air Travel
  • Hotels

The first two are probably the biggest everyday categories for normal credit card spend for many.  The 3x at restaurants is also solid for a mid-range card.  Despite holding more credit cards than I care to admit, I often find myself charging small hotel incidentals on the Premier, as well.  You can do better in travel categories, but 3x on air travel and hotel spend is solid for this card level.

The Rewards+ card earns 2x on all supermarket and gas station spend.  This overlaps a bit with the Premier, but it’s a great option for those who want to earn in bonus categories and aren’t ready for a Premier card.  If you spend correctly, you can earn 5x points on your Custom Cash card spend, as well (more on that later).  Also, the Double Cash card is great to put all other non bonused spend on.  Essentially, you can consider the Double Cash’s 2% cash back (which convert to ThankYou points 1:1)  a bonus category for all other spending.  Now, let’s get into the fun of the Rewards+ and Custom Cash cards.

Creative Spending Opportunities for More Points

Citi Credit Cards

Rewards+

Citi has managed to firmly cement the Rewards+ card in my wallet.  Many laugh at this card, but it’s a great way to earn points at a high rate on small purchases.  I love it so much, I strategize with it annually.  The card’s “round up” feature increases the earning on every purchase to the next 10 points.  A $0.31 purchase earns 10 points, and so does a $9.74 purchase.  Last year, I earned 11x on the majority of my Citi Rewards+ purchases, and I’m doing even better this year.  Sure, this high rate is focused on low purchase amounts.  But for many who are low spenders, anyway, why not maximize earning?

Another fun angle of the Rewards+ card is its 10% back feature.  Rewards+ cardholders receive 10% of their points back on every redemption, up to 100k points redeemed annually.  This makes points from all of your cards linked to the same ThankYou account effectively worth 10% more.

Custom Cash

A more recent addition to the Citi card portfolio is the Citi Custom Cash.  This card earns a whopping 5%/5x on the first $500 monthly spend in the highest category from these:

Restaurants, gas stations, grocery stores, select travel, select transit, select streaming services, drugstores, home improvement stores, fitness clubs, live entertainment.

Another great feature of this card for casual points fans is that you don’t need to activate any bonus categories to get 5x.  Citi automatically determines that based on your highest spend category that month.  It can’t get much easier than that!

Citi Credit Cards That Stand Alone, But Also Complement Each Other

The Premier, Rewards+, Custom Cash, and Double Cash cards all stand on their own with their unique qualities, but they also complement each other nicely.  Casual fans and low spenders can choose their first Citi card based on their highest spend categories and overall spend levels.  Subsequently branching out to more cards can bring more value and earning potential, but doing so isn’t absolutely necessary.

Many may want to hold all four cards.  Beyond a small bit of category repetition, I can think of a use case for each card to maximize ThankYou point earning:

  • Citi Custom Cash for $500 spend in the highest 5x category
  • Citi Premier for spend in 3x categories which aren’t part of the Custom Cash spend
  • Rewards+ for small purchases
  • Double Cash for anything else that isn’t earning at least 2x

Citi Credit Cards
You won’t spend much (or maybe any) of this for a great collection of Citi credit cards!

Low Annual Fee

Another highlight of Citi for casual points fans and low spenders is only one of the four cards I’ve discussed comes with an annual fee, the Premier.  And that card’s annual fee is a reasonable $95.  And the lineup of features on the three no annual fee cards is quite impressive.

Routine Spending Offers

Citi often provides spending offers to existing cardholders in certain spend categories.  I’ve received offers via snail mail and email, but I’ve also called into Citi to request spending offers.  It’s worked most of the time!  Some offers involve 5x on a maximum amount of spending or a lump sum of bonus points when meeting a minimum spend amount.

Periodic Retention Offers

Likewise, Citi has enticed me to keep the Premier card the past several years by waving the annual fee and offering bonus points.  These offers vary, but my current retention offer entails spending $1k in three consecutive months in order to earn a $95 statement credit and 1k bonus points.  Therefore, I can easily accomplish the requirements by focusing my normal spend on my Premier card.

Turkish Miles & Smiles program points values
Turkish is a high value (if not simple) travel partner for redemptions.

Simple Redemption

Casual points fans and low spenders can enjoy Citi’s straightforward redemption options.  Depending on the cards you hold, you can easily redeem ThankYou points for gift cards or statement credits for 1 cent per point.  Shop Your Way points redemption is also possible at a 1:1 ratio.  Of course, if you want to put extra effort for more value, Citi has an eclectic set of travel partners for redemption.  But many of us are perfectly fine with the 1 cent per point valuations.  For what it’s worth, I routinely cash out ThankYou points.  These are Citi’s current travel transfer partners:

  • Avianca
  • Air France / KLM Flying Blue
  • Cathay Pacific
  • Etihad Airways
  • EVA Air
  • Garuda Indonesia
  • Jet Airways
  • JetBlue Airways
  • Malaysia Airlines
  • Qantas Airways
  • Qatar Airways
  • Singapore Airlines
  • Thai Airways
  • Turkish Airlines
  • Virgin Atlantic

What About Chase?

Many of you are probably thinking, wait, I can do much better with Chase.  Indeed, some of you can and do.  Each individual should analyze spending habits and determine how much effort to put into the hobby before making a decision on which bank’s cards to pursue.  You may find Citi’s partners suit you, but Chase’s (or other banks’) partners may be a better fit.

A few glaring areas are missing with Chase, though, in my opinion:

  • No Chase card has supermarkets as a permanent bonus earning category.
  • The Freedom Flex card has just been upstaged by the Custom Cash for 5x earning (in terms of ease and categories).
  • The Citi Premier easily beats Chase’s most comparable card, the Sapphire Preferred, in terms of bonus category earning.  The 3x categories from Citi are 2x at best with Chase, and that’s only restaurants and travel.  There are rumors of Chase improving Sapphire Preferred earning rates but not as broadly as Citi’s current bonus categories.

Citi Credit Cards – Conclusion

Of course, consider any welcome offer you can obtain prior to pursuing a particular card and incorporate that into your decision.  Over time, though, everyday earning and redemption means more, and that one-time shiny welcome offer loses its luster.  Overall, I think Citi’s program works great for casual points fans and low spenders.  Such consumers can have fun earning points at high rates while enjoying simple redemption options and minimizing annual fees.  Citi has delivered for this subset of consumers, and I’d be happy to see the other heavyweights, particularly Amex and Chase, up their games here.  I’ll be watching!

Benjy Harmon
Benjy is a fan of points, miles, and financial independence (FI). An experienced world traveler, husband, and father, he currently focuses on roaming throughout the USA expense-free (or close to it). He enjoys helping others achieve their FI and travel goals.

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7 COMMENTS

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7 COMMENTS

  1. You can add one more glaring area that is missing with Chase, and that is that you can’t directly use Ultimate Rewards points to acquire American Airlines AAdvantage miles.

    • Miles,
      That new capability with Citi definitely gives them a leg up over Chase in that regard, even if it’s just temporary. I’ll definitely consider it a Chase negative if Citi enables American transfers permanently.

  2. The one part where Citi falls down hard is travel insurance. No rental car coverage, no trip delay, etc. This is the one thing where their falling down means I pretty much have to carry an AMEX/Chase/other issuer card to cover this. I’m probably going to transition to more of a Citi setup over time for many of the reasons you cite (knocking off high 3 digit amount in annual fees will be a win that I can just put back into travel- could literally buy AS miles with them), but I rent enough cars and do enough longhaul international travel that no insurance is a deal breaker.

    That being said, you don’t usually need insurance on a meal out or groceries, you know?

    • eponymous coward,
      You definitely nailed it on the travel insurance issue. For many, this could be a deal breaker. But fortunately, as you cite, others either have a) contingencies with other banks’ cards, and/or b) don’t give a flip about travel insurance.

  3. The problem with Citi for casual point enthusiasts is not on the earning side, but the redemption side. First, linking your TYP accounts to pool your points can be extremely frustrating. Second, the travel partners are more niche (aside from temporary AA). It takes a certain level of points prowess just to be able to know what TYP are good for. Finally, steering beginners to Citi is a bad idea due to Chase 5/24, bc who knows if they will want to remain in easy mode. Best to get them started on Chase.

    • WR2,
      You make some plausible points. However, depending on the individual and his/her goals, Citi redemption can be a snap. If one values cashout (or even GC’s) above locking in any given travel currency, Citi redemptions are fairly simple. Yes, for those concerned about 5/24, perhaps Chase may be the way to go starting out. From my perspective, though, giving up on 5/24 can work out better in for some. But again, it’s incumbent on everyone to analyze their own situations.

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